Balloon pilots just keep moving to Longview - - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

Balloon pilots just keep moving to Longview

Pilot Sandy Graf high over Longview. Photo by Jamey Boyum KLTV. Pilot Sandy Graf high over Longview. Photo by Jamey Boyum KLTV.

The pilots have arrived in East Texas, and the Great Texas Balloon Race is about to begin. It starts Friday with a flight over Longview, but on Thursday morning, about a dozen pilots took a practice flight.

We spoke with a balloonist to find out why so many balloon pilots are now calling the Longview area home.

Sandy Graf has been participating in the Great Texas Balloon Race for 18 years. She knows the drill. She has piloted a balloon for 25 years, and is in the process of making Lake Cherokee, just north of Longview, home. But why?

“It’s because all of my friends, my balloonist buddies, a lot of them live out there, and along with ballooning, I love being on the water anywhere,” Graf said.

There are seven balloon pilots who have homes at Lake Cherokee.

“You know, you have to go somewhere so why not Longview? It’s beautiful, a beautiful area, and of course the Great Texas Balloon Race is probably one of the premier events of the year,” Graf explained.

Several pilots rank the East Texas race as number three in world-wide balloon competitions, after World’s and Nationals. Others think even more of it.

“I’d put it in my one or two category,” she laughed.

Sandy has flown all over the country, as well as internationally. She started her relationship with sunrise winds when she was growing up.

“And I saw a balloon fly across a cornfield in Iowa. I said 'I’m going to do that someday,'” Graf revealed.

She has found a new family at Lake Cherokee and at every race she attends.

“We have a place to stay and a balloon to fly,” Graf smiled.

“So do you think pilots will take over Lake Cherokee?” I asked Graf.

“I hope so. We’re a good group of people. Kind of crazy sometimes, but a good group of people,” Graf added.

Bill Bussey, founder of the balloon race, has a place at Lake Cherokee and has been credited with attracting other pilots to the area.

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